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March 23, 2008

Still Quirky After All these Years

Cook & Tell here (it’s really just me), unloading a bag of groceries with one hand and balancing a tray of good cheer and chatter with the other.  Now in the hands of subscribers, the March issue of Southport’s Fastest Growing Almost Monthly Kitchen Newsletter (Southport pop., c.700) is growing old (the March issue, not the population.  We never grow old.)  Navigating the shoals of recipe testing for the April issue – that’s the Cook part – while riding the waves of actually writing the thing – the Tell – allows only a tiny slice of time for reliving the past (which, in Cook & Tell lingo, means last month’s issue).  But there’s only so much space in the newsletter, and there’s always more to say.

In anticipation of Maine Maple Day, March 23, when folks can visit sugar houses and watch sap turn into syrup, C&T’s Chocolate Chit-Chat column for March put some maple syrup and chocolate in the same room along with bonding ingredients such as eggs, butter, and flour, and invited readers to watch it all turn into Maple Pecan Brownies.  I don’t make up the recipes; I field the ones that readers send in, unsolicited, combine them with clippings from my own files that might work for a given month’s issue, and narrow down the mass of printed, handwritten, and e-mailed offerings to a manageable pile of possibilities. That chocolate recipe was yet another serendipitous occurrence:  What are the chances of actually finding a certain recipe you clipped probably 20 years ago and stuffed somewhere in any one of a number of oddly labeled folders, paper bags, or shoe boxes – or pasted in one of your scrapbooks, under, what?  Chocolate?  Maple?  Brownies?  Bakery?  I can’t even say I went looking for it.  I just found it.  Yellowed newsprint, just as I had remembered.

March has its share of special days to hang recipes on – St.
Patrick’s Day, the first day of spring, Easter, Labour Day in
Australia, Mothering Sunday in England.  I’d been wanting to try the
Irish Soda Bread recipe that Claudia, my housepainting friend (Small
Jobs a Specialty) brought a sample of one day, when she was touching up
woodwork around my new vinyl replacement windows.  Golden raisins and
caraway seeds give it personality, a quality C&T is always
on the alert for.  The test was perfect.  This was the month to run it,
so I did, under a feature heading of Breakfast Breads.  Our bow to
Easter gave me a chance to sketch some bunnies and offer a
crazy-delicious ham recipe, in which the eight-to-ten-pound hunk of
meat sits on a rack over a half-inch-deep pool of Coca-Cola with which
it’s basted every 15 minutes.   In observance of Cook & Tell’s
26 years of fairly responsible kitchen journalism (March 1982 was its
first issue;  March 2008 its 275th) I invited everybody to make his own
cake – Paul’s wonderful, simple Yogurt Cake that French schoolchildren
have made for generations. 

But who knew World Water Day was March  20th?  It would have been a
good excuse for taking an extra shower or having another glass of
water, but for the fact that those activities probably run counter to
the spirit of the Day.  So, without even realizing we were doing it,
(the proverbial benefit of hindsight), the March issue celebrated the
Great Wet Day by running a recipe for Carrots with Fennel Seed and
Lemon Butter that calls for "water to cover;" a Faux French Onion Soup,
starring a soup can of water; and "a really good recipe that really
works" – Buttermilk Breakfast Rolls.  The required yeast is sprinkled
in a quarter-cup of that clear, virtually colorless liquid.

According to Barter Island Bob, an ex-spy who has been on C&T’s
mailing list for 23 years, the government  has three ways of replying
to letters from citizens: Point with pride; view with alarm; amazed and
astounded, at a loss to understand.  Twenty-six years after its first
issue began the search for intelligent life in the kitchen, Cook & Tell
remains a black-and-white island in a sea of full color,amazed and
astounded, at a loss to explain its longevity.  It could be because
we’re having so much fun.

Karyl Bannister writes and illustrates the newsletter Cook & Tell, published ten times a year.   

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